As I alluded to in my last blog post, a common "curse" of being a musician is the expectation that everything you play must be perfect, and anything less is a failing - and failings are many. Fingers that don't land on the right keys - that's a big deal for a pianist. Singers who hit wrong notes and sing wrong words - again, a failing. When we go to an event or tune in to the Super Bowl though, don't we expect the singer to perform The Star Spangled Banner perfectly? When they don't - our instant videos and communication with millions of people are quick to point out errors. Just as likely, when it is well done - these performances remain YouTube classics (I am reminded of Whitney Houston's version of The Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991. I just went back and listened to it again, and I will not fail to be moved by that soaring beautiful voice.)
The respect afforded a conductor such as Leonard Bernstein, or composers such as Aaron Copland is great - and to deliver a classically perfect performance is always the goal - and it is delivered most of the time to audiences who enthusiastically applaud. At last year's performance of Handel's Messiah by the Wichita Chorale Society, one particular part of that great work was attempted by the choir, and miserably performed. Those tenors just took off like a team of wild horses and you should have seen our maestro's face - he went from concern, to greatly concerned, to alarmed, to terrified, to resignation, then, as he delivered the final cutoff, a hint of a smile and a shake of the head as if to say, "Well, there ya go. It is what it is." But we survived, and I venture to say not many in the audience caught on. However, we all knew. That's the catch.
When I am thanked for an offertory, I now am able to graciously accept those thanks and move on. Not so much in the past. I would often reiterate missed notes or comment how I didn't play my best (which was often true). But really - it dawned on me that thanks were given for a musical expression which allowed for worship, not for a perfect performance.
I'm not saying to not try your best, and to not practice, and to not prepare. But I am saying, a missed note is a missed note is a missed note. I had several today in playing the hymns for church and in playing the offertory. And I always will. But a part of me as a musician will always want to offer up the best I have for the Author and Creator of all things musical.
Psalm 103, which we studied in Sunday School is a wonderful psalm- read it if you haven't recently. My favorite verses from that psalm are 13 and 14 - "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust." He knows how we are formed. Think about that. God understands that we can only offer the best we have, as imperfect as it is.
And so I go to a family reunion, and reunite with brothers and a sister who are gifted musicians. And I offer my little gift of two Chopin pieces - as imperfect as I will play them, but I hope that they will bring something to the listeners. Maybe an appreciation for Chopin? In the 3 minutes I will play, I hope among the missed notes that a love for my family will flow and they will know how valuable they are to me.